A PSNI air crew who escaped major injury when their helicopter flipped upside down on landing are lucky to be alive, a senior officer said tonight.
All four men were able to walk from the wreckage of the overturned Eurocopter Squirrel after it turned over this morning close to the site of last weekend’s fatal helicopter crash high up in the Mountains of Mourne in the North.
They had been taking part in the ongoing operation following Saturday‘s tragedy near Hilltown, Co Down, in which three men were killed, including a close friend of Prince Charles.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the helicopter, which is on lease to the force, was working on the final phase of the recovery and mapping exercise.
“This was the last flight as part of that operation,” he said.
“We believe the helicopter was going to land close to Saturday’s crash site when the incident occurred.
“The helicopter turned upside down but all four people on board were able to get out. They are lucky to be alive.”
Bad weather prevented the shaken crew members – a pilot, photographer, observer and emergency team officer – being taken off the mountainside immediately and they were treated in tents for three hours until a RAF rescue helicopter was finally given the all clear to bring them to hospital.
Asst Chief Constable Finlay said one of the men had sustained a head injury but it and the other men’s injuries were not serious.
Saturday‘s accident on the same mountain claimed the lives of Charles Stisted, Ian Wooldridge and their pilot, who has yet to be named.
They were flying back to England after taking part in a shooting hunt at Baronscourt country estate in Co Tyrone.
Mr Stisted, a friend of the Prince of Wales, and Mr Wooldridge were both members of the exclusive Guards Polo Club at Windsor.
As with the weekend tragedy, the cause of the latest accident is being examined by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport.
Asst Chief Constable Finlay thanked all those involved in getting the injured men off the mountain.
“Today’s operation was also very difficult,” he said.
“It was a massive multi-agency operation and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, the Ambulance Service, the RAF, Coastguard, Mourne Mountain Rescue and the Irish Coastguard for their assistance.”
The Mourne Mountains area is internationally renowned for its picturesque scenery. The range, set on the coastline of south Co Down, is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The highest mountain in the range, Slieve Donard, is nearly 3,000ft high.
But changeable weather patterns along the coast and the presence of the mountains have led to tragedy in the past.
In June last year three men were killed when their light aircraft crashed into a field near a private landing strip at Kilkeel, Co Down.
In an unrelated incident today, an Irish maritime patrol aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing at Eglinton Airport, Derry.
The Air Corps CASA aircraft was on a routine operation about 150 miles off the west coast when a warning light activated in the cockpit at approximately 11.10am.
One of the aircraft’s two engines were shut down as a precaution and a controlled emergency landing carried out safely at the airport. The aircraft touched down at 1.34pm.
An Air Corps technical team was travelling from Baldonnel to Derry to examine the plane.
A previous precautionary emergency landing was carried out by this aircraft at Kerry Airport, Farranfore, on October 22 due to an electrical fault associated with the pneumatic system.